A New Wave of Crossovers: Zoom in an SUV and a higher-caliber jeep

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Mazda CX-7Mazda CX-7
Although the competition is steep, Mazda has created a highly competent player in the crossover SUV field with its all-new CX-7. Automotive Rhythms was in the house at the worldwide press launch in Washington, D.C., to get the skinny on Mazda?s first real entry into this packed and popular segment. If you thought Mazda?s catchy ?Zoom Zoom? marketing slogan was dead, think again. Though it might be a little played, CX-7 Program Manager Shunsuke Kawasaki said, ?There is no doubt this SUV reflects Zoom Zoom. CX-7 skillfully blends sports car verve with SUV practicality.? This is precisely what Mazda hopes will separate the CX-7 from the pack. After a thorough test of the CX-7, I can safely say that Mazda loyalists and newcomers to Mazda will not be disappointed with this SUV.

The five-passenger CX-7 starts at $23,750 for the front-wheel drive Sport model. A Touring and Grand Touring model will be available as upgraded trim levels. Driving the CX-7 was enjoyable and the SUV stuck to curvy backroads like a Mazda 6. The overall steering feel is excellent and the vehicle gives the driver a good but not excessive feel of the road. Though not usually a sporty attribute, the CX-7?s ?command? seating is a welcome addition in that it provides for superior visibility, safety and confidence without sacrificing the driving feel. Only one engine is available?Mazda?s MZR 2.3-liter DISI (direct injection spark ignition) turbo engine, which produces 244 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Though this is a highly advanced four-cylinder engine, it didn?t quite provide the much-anticipated ?sports car? power that was promised. The manual sports shift on the 6-speed automatic helps get the best out of the engine. Noise from the engine and tires was also an unexpected factor for me. A little more dampening to insulate the interior would go a long way to address this.

2007 Jeep Compass2007 Jeep Compass
Jeep is trying to showcase some nontraditional skills: life without off-roading. Late last year, the company stepped into the seven-passenger segment with the Jeep Commander. Now comes the all-new Compass, a compact SUV built to guide young, energetic buyers to a Jeep dealership for their first taste of Jeep life. The Compass shares the same platform and overall design profile with company brethren Dodge Caliber. Put the two side by side and the family resemblance is undeniable. Both own a few funky characteristics designed for the cool, like a rechargeable interior light that doubles as a flashlight and fold-down speakers within the lift gate for musical enjoyment during picnics and tailgating.

Starting with the exterior, the front end of the Compass is all Jeep, with its seven-slot front grille and round headlights. Front fascia curves are bold and aggressive, widened fender flares exude a tough look and the clam-shaped hood is a staple in Jeep models. Wheel wells are large and trapezoidal in shape. The house standard is a 17-inch aluminum rim but you can get 18-inch aluminum or chrome-plated ones. The rear profile is reminiscent of the Jeep Grand Cherokee but smaller, of course, with a rear spoiler and Jeep badging throughout.

Under the hood, you will find a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine producing 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. This ?World Engine,? a joint venture between DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi, is designed for fuel economy. It is mated to a continuously variable transmission for improved performance and gas mileage. Compass gets about 23 miles per gallon in the city and 26 m.p.g. on the highway for the 4WD automatic and 25/29 m.p.g. city/highway for the 4WD with a five-speed manual. A 2.0-liter turbo diesel will be available outside of the United States. With prices starting at $15,985 ($560 destination charge), Jeep is looking for buyers who want good fuel economy, somewhat sporty looks, funky
features and affordability in an SUV.???

Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of Automotive Rhythms and host of ?The Urban Automotive Experience.? The editors of Automotive Rhythms contributed to this article. Visit? www.AutomotiveRhythms.com.